I am a relatively new uncle. It’s been just over 3 months and I love my niece more than I could have imagined loving a tiny, mentally inaccessible human. I can go on and on about how wonderful she is, but there’s no need. Go read any blog about a baby and you’ll get the gist of it.
The babies parents are quite religious, and I am very not. Part of a lot of very religious people’s lives is raising religious children. This baby has already had some sort of dedication ceremony. I have no idea what that is, but I imagine it’s some sort of dedication to god. (According to some website: The rite is intended to be a public statement by the parents that they will train their children in the Christian faith and seek to instill that faith in them.) I think it’s clear my niece will be raised christian (more clear now that I googled a dedication). I have no interest in trying to decide what my little niece believes, but I’m also fairly open about my non-belief. On my bookshelf is Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell, among various other blasphemous nonfiction that makes my position obvious. I read philosophy and I am an amateur scientist. Besides being a hopeful career, it means I am very interested in science. I enjoy it. I read about it. I talk about it. I write about it. I argue about it. I’m immersed in it. It’s a big part of my life. A lot of the things I study or read about – evolution, free will, morality, the big bang – don’t jive with all christians.
I’m concerned. Like I said, I have no interest in forcing my ideas on my niece, or anyone else for that matter. I don’t think anyone should do that (parents or not). But it’s not hard to offend people with the things I read about. I can conceive of many situations in which I say something, inadvertently demeaning someone’s beliefs. Sometimes simply not being religious upsets people (who is less trusted than an atheist?). I have luckily gotten over the first hurdle, which was another worry, but it feels like I’m precariously perched on an edge. My thoughts are mine. I will never force them where they don’t belong, but I will not hide them, either. Later, if my niece asks me about what I do, or what I’m reading, I don’t think it’s right to hide it from her.
What wold be the best way to navigate these waters? Does anyone have any experience with this, either as the religious party or the non-believing party? Should I simply do my best to keep out of it? Would it be better to talk to my family – the parents – about all this so it doesn’t sneak up on anyone?
No one’s position is unknown but the risk of being shut out feels real, and in some ways, understandable. Their faith is extremely important to them. Differing opinions wouldn’t necessarily put them out of order, but introducing non-believers with a lot of books to their child is probably scary to them. I’m the snake that leads her astray. Who isn’t or wouldn’t be protective of their child? I understand my ideas can be considered dangerous to them. (Again, not really them, they are grown and comfortable in their minds, but their child.) This is one of those issues that is so large that a single slip up could end very badly. While saying that, I want to make it clear that I’m not implying that they are unreasonable, if they were I would never see my niece.
I can’t help but be a little worried.